Police van set on fire and projectiles thrown: fifteen people were arrested on Saturday February 11 after a violent demonstration in front of a hotel housing asylum seekers near Liverpool, illustrating the tense climate which reigns in the United Kingdom on the question of reception migrants. Several hundred people hostile to the reception of refugees had gathered in front of the Suites Hotel in Knowsley (north-west of England), according to images of the rally.
After a mobilization “initially peaceful”, “Projectiles were thrown at police officers and one of our police vehicles was damaged” by people “who only wanted to cause violence and intimidation”, local police said in a statement. Fifteen people, aged 13 to 54, were arrested, according to police who reported one injured in their ranks. Gatherings were banned in the area for 48 hours. Videos shared on social media show a burning police van and officers with riot shields.
“Rhetoric of hatred and division”
According to local MP, Labor George Howarth, the protest was sparked by a “supposed incident published on social networks”, currently under investigation by the police. On Saturday, opposition MPs and refugee aid associations deplored the actions of “far-right thugs”. Interior Minister Suella Braverman condemned late Saturday afternoon a “terrible mess”. “The alleged behavior of some asylum seekers is never an excuse for violence and intimidation”she wrote on Twitter.
The Conservative government, which has made the fight against illegal immigration its priority for years, continues to toughen its rhetoric in the face of the influx of migrants. Mme Braverman had spoken in November 2022 of a “invasion”sparking an outcry in a country where the majority of the population remains in favor of welcoming refugees, according to polls.
In a press release sent to Agence France-Presse, Clare Moseley, president of the Care4Calais migrant aid association, estimated that “the hateful and divisive rhetoric of our politicians is destroying our society and our British values”. For Enver Solomon, president of the Refugee Council, this policy “of a hostile environment, of demonization of the men, women and children who come to our country to flee war and terror [et] the use of the word ‘invasion’ creates division and hatred”.
More than 45,000 people crossed the Channel in small makeshift boats in 2022 to seek asylum in the UK, a record. The asylum system is unable to handle this influx, resulting in overcrowded reception centers and huge delays in processing claims. As asylum seekers do not have the right to work, the government spends millions of pounds to house them, in particular by resorting massively to hotels.
Last month, around 100 associations wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak asking for an independent investigation into the fate of 200 unaccompanied minor migrants who went missing after being housed in hotels.
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